City applies for grants from HUD before cuts

September 20, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

With deep budget cuts looming on Capitol Hill, Baltimore is rushing to line up millions of dollars to redevelop its decrepit public high-rise projects while halting hiring at the Housing Authority to cope with the first reduction in federal aid.

The city has joined a nationwide -- for federal housing grants at a time when Congress is deliberating on hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts. Some Republican lawmakers have called for abolishing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In an attempt to secure a share of the federal aid before it dries up, the Baltimore Housing Authority has applied for a $17 million grant to demolish and rebuild the Murphy Homes project on the west side. The city also is a finalist for a $23 million grant to overhaul Lexington Terrace on the western edge of downtown.

At the same time, however, the authority had to institute a hiring freeze and curtail its expenditures after being hit with a $6 million cut in its mostly federally subsidized $88 million operating budget.

Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said yesterday that he's trying to avoid layoffs among the 1,500 authority employees. "We're trying to absorb the budget cuts in a way that does not cut people," he said.

Mr. Henson claimed the $6 million cut was part of a nationwide reduction in HUD funding, not the result of a federal audit that found mismanagement in a $25.6 million no-bid repair program.

At the regular monthly meeting of the public housing commissioners, Mr. Henson also announced the beginning of plans to tear down the 760-unit Murphy Homes and rebuild a less dense community that includes a mix of market-rate town homes and subsidized housing. The early proposal calls for demolishing the four dilapidated and outdated high-rise buildings and replacing them with 338 town homes, of which 110 will be offered for sale.

A revision of the Lexington Terrace proposal prompted a renewed discussion among the board of the habit of signing off on grant applications in hastily convened meetings. Board member Constance Caplan questioned why an executive session was called Aug. 30, two days before the Lexington Terrace plan was to be resubmitted to the federal Housing Department.

"I have a lot of concerns about the time frame that people are asked to review these things," said Ms. Caplan, who was out of town when three of the five commissioners approved the plan. "I don't think we ought to hold our meetings right before it is submitted."

Mr. Henson defended the latest meeting as the only way to meet a tight federal deadline.

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